Says no major rescue operation has been carried out for Chibok girls
Tobi Soniyi in Abuja and Zacheaus Somorin in Lagos with agency reports
The United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, has said the US is poised to provide Nigeria with information and intelligence needed to locate the missing Chibok girls and fight Boko Haram.
According to her, the issue of the missing girls remains a huge priority to the US.
Speaking after a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari at Aso Rock in Abuja, Power said she discussed the case of the missing girls extensively with Buhari.
She said: “The issue of the Chibok girls and other adaptations is of huge priority to the US And it was the issue I discussed at length with President Buhari today. (yesterday).
“We had moved to provide the information and intelligence needed to the Nigerian authorities. We have in recent months been able to allocate additional information sharing platforms and additional surveillance to aid the fight against Boko Haram.
“We will not rest, we will continue to deepen our partnership and be more effective with our partners on the ground. We are determined to support Nigeria and other neighboring countries efforts to secure more rescues of adopted people and releases in the days and weeks ahead.”
Power said she also discussed with Buhari the importance of pursuing every need related to the Chibok girls and making sure, “we have mechanism whereby parents and family members who have been abducted by Boko Haram can be given information whereby videos can be examined and family members offer their feedbacks on their impression on the videos and indeed with those involved in the operations in trying to rescue the girls.”
According to her, the recent video was one part of their discussion and the larger puzzle that needed to be assembled .
Meanwhile, the US has said it has not carried out any major operation to rescue the abducted Chibok girls, saying however that they have not been abandoned.
It pointed out that American and African forces sent to Cameroun to fight Boko Haram had on several occasions located clusters of the schoolgirls kidnapped by the militant group two years ago.
According to US officials, rescue operations had not been carried out because of fears that any ensuing battle with Boko Haram fighters would put the captives at risk, or incite retaliation against hostages still being held in other areas.
A New York Times report quoted an American officials saying a combination of local intelligence, intercepted communications and drone footage had been used to locate groups of the 276 girls abducted from the Government Secondary School in the Nigerian town of Chibok this month.
Some of the girls have since been tracked to Nigeria’s sprawling Sambisa Forest.
Officials insist that efforts to free the girls have not been abandoned. They say that a major concern is the hundreds of other women and girls who are also held by Boko Haram, captives who are often sexually assaulted, forced into marriages with their tormentors, and sometimes killed.
“You’re not just looking for 200 girls,” said General Carter F. Ham, the retired head of the United States military’s Africa Command.
“There are many, others who have been taken hostage, thousands killed, and two and a half million people displaced,” he said.
Senior American military officials joined the US Ambassador to the UN, Power, in Cameroun this week to speak with the country’s military and civilian leaders about the fight against Boko Haram and information gleaned by American intelligence.
The talks took place not far from where American Special Operations forces and hundreds of surveillance drone operators are based. Despite the proximity of the troops, Boko Haram’s attacks continued.
Last Monday night, three Camerounian soldiers were killed and five wounded after Boko Haram fighters ambushed a military convoy near Dabanga, a town in the country’s North, Camerounian military officials said. The ambush followed intense fighting on the Nigerian side of the border, where Boko Haram militants attacked an army base, wounding 22 soldiers.
US military officials said intelligence reports show that the girls have been divided into smaller groups. General David M. Rodriguez, the head of the military’s Africa Command, told journalists at the Pentagon this month that the Chibok girls have been “moved to some very isolated places.”
Rodriguez added that locating them is “not an exact science.”
Because the girls have been dispersed, military forces from Chad, Nigeria and Cameroon might need to mount simultaneous rescues to make sure that Boko Haram fighters do not retaliate for the rescue of one group. Such a multipronged, coordinated operation would be difficult even for highly trained American troops with combat experience in Afghanistan and Iraq to pull off.
“So the challenge is, how do you find a lot of people held hostage in different places?” General Ham asked.
“That’s really complex and it stretches the capability of local forces.”
About 100 miles South of Maroua, the city where Brig. Gen. Donald C. Bolduc, top United States Special Operations commander for Africa, met last Monday with Camerounian military officials, about 200 American drone operators and Special Operations forces worked with local troops to gather intelligence on Boko Haram and the whereabouts of its many hostages.
General Bolduc has recommended that the Pentagon send dozens of additional Special Operations advisers to the front lines of Nigeria’s fight against Boko Haram. Such a move would push American troops hundreds of miles closer to the battle against an extremist group that has killed thousands of civilians in Nigeria’s North-east and in neighboring Niger, Chad and Cameroun. The additional advisers would serve in noncombat advisory roles, military officials said.
Even if the African forces continue to push back the militants, as they have managed to do in recent months, the hostage issue is not going away.
There has been concern that Boko Haram, perhaps because it is on the retreat, is increasingly using its hostages as suicide bombers. Few observers appear to put much stock in the assertion by Buhari, that the militant group is technically defeated.
Col. Badjeck Didier, a spokesman for Cameroun’s Defence Ministry, said Tuesday that he worried that some of the Chibok girls might have been turned into suicide bombers.
Tom M. Sanderson, director of the transnational threats project at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said the length of the girls’ time in captivity may have contributed to the difficulty in rescuing them.
No United States official has yet made a public assertion that the Chibok girls have been turned into suicide bombers. Ms. Power, at a news conference on Tuesday in the capital, Yaoundé, said that the Special Operations forces sent by President Obama were doing “surveillance, intelligence and reconnaissance” and would continue their efforts to locate the Chibok girls.
“I want to assure the parents of the Chibok girls and the parents of any children gone missing that, indeed, the United States is in this for the long haul,” Ms. Power said.